LONDON (AFP) – Police rushed to London’s busy Oxford Street shopping district on Friday (Nov 24) after reports that shots had been fired, sparking fears of a terror incident and leaving 16 people hurt as panic swept the area.
After locking down the area for more than an hour, the Metropolitan Police said officers had not found “any trace of any suspects, evidence of shots fired or casualties”.
But several people were injured as shoppers seeking Black Friday bargains fled the scene, including nine who were taken to hospital, London’s Ambulance Service said.
“We checked over and treated several patients who sustained injuries while leaving the Oxford Circus area,” the service said.
“We discharged seven patients at the scene and took eight patients to two central London hospital for minor injuries. We also took one patient to a major trauma centre for leg injuries,” it added.
Police initially said they were responding to reports of gunfire at Oxford Circus and its Underground station “as if the incident is terrorist related”.
Crowds ran from the scene, many rushing into already packed shops for safety, reflecting the nervousness in a country that has sustained five terror attacks since March.
But police later said they found no evidence of any incident, and tweeted: “Our response on #OxfordStreet has now been stood down.”
“If you sought shelter in a building please now leave, and follow the direction of police officers on the ground if you need assistance.”
‘REALLY A NIGHTMARE’
Oxford Circus, the junction of London’s Oxford Street and Regent Street, is one of the busiest areas in London, particularly around the Tube station, where the entrance is regularly closed at rush hour in a bid to control the crowds.
Ahlam Ibrahim told AFP she was pushed into a shop when people started shouting.
“We didn’t know what was going on, it was really a nightmare. I am glad nobody was hurt,” she said.
Oxford Circus station was later reopened, as was nearby Bond Street, which had been closed for fear of overcrowding. Trains were stopping at both.
In the first statement, police said they were called at 4,38pm “to a number of reports of shots fired on Oxford Street and underground at Oxford Circus tube station... Police have responded as if the incident is terrorist related”.
They later said there were “numerous 999 (emergency) calls” reporting shots fired in a number of locations in the area.
British security forces are on high alert after a string of attacks this year which have left scores of people dead.
The most recent involved a bomb on a packed London Underground train in south-west London in September, which injured 30 people. A teenager is facing trial for attempted murder.